Cyclist Captures Harassment on Camera in South Williamsburg

Elevated from today’s headline stack, via Animal NY: A driver on a South Williamsburg street refused to share the road with cyclist Rafael Huerta, and after harassing Huerta in the street three times with his vehicle, refused to take responsibility for his actions. Instead, he claimed the cyclist was at fault — but video from the cyclist’s handlebar-mounted camera indicates otherwise.

The video begins with Huerta riding eastbound on Wallabout Street, starting at Kent Avenue. (Wallabout is a parallel route to Flushing Avenue, which has shared-lane markings but also heavier truck and auto traffic.) The street is two-way and the lane is relatively narrow; the video shows Huerta riding in the right-hand third of the lane.

After the intersection with Franklin Avenue, a gray Toyota minivan driver passes him, then hits the brakes and moves to the right, squeezing him between the moving vehicle and parked cars.

Following a third encounter where the driver swerved into his path, Huerta stopped, and the driver, a middle-aged Hasidic man, gets out of the car and says, “You are not allowed to drive in the middle of the street.” This is incorrect. According to state law, as encapsulated in DOT’s “Bike Smart” guide, “Cyclists should ‘take the lane’ when necessary.”

As Huerta calls 911 to report being harassed, a third man comes over, and the driver calls Huerta a liar. “Don’t bang my car,” he says, laughing. “He’s harassing me right now.”

This incident thankfully ended without physical harm to anyone, though not before a plainclothes police officer intervened to break up the crowd that had gathered around Huerta, blocking his way. Huerta says in the video’s description: “Please refrain from using racial comments…This man doesn’t represent the Jewish community…And I don’t represent the biking community either.”

Harassment like this isn’t limited to Hasidic Williamsburg. A few years ago, Streetsblog reported about two cases, one involving a cyclist and one a pedestrian, in which people were physically endangered or injured by motorists, then cited by police for damaging the vehicle of the perpetrator.

  • Joe R.

    Keeping with that line of thought, human powered transportation can potentially be as fast or faster than cars even outside of urban areas:

    And here’s a vehicle which is in production and 100% roadworthy:

  • Anonymous

    Now that I’ve had a day to digest watching this video what do people suggest a cyclist in this situation do?

    Would others call the police in a similar situation?

  • Joe R.

    I would do one of two things to avoid getting in that situation:

    1) When the van driver slowed down and started pulling in front of me, I would have passed on the left (without slowing down) and rode away as quickly as I physically could. I might also have turned off on the next street, perhaps even made a few quick, random turns in succession in case he decided to try to follow me.

    2) If oncoming traffic prevented passing on the left, I would have either made a u-turn, or even went on the sidewalk, and rode away in the opposite direction. The van would have had to either back up or make a quick u-turn to follow me. Both would have been difficult on that street. Once again, when I arrived at the next intersection, I might have made a few quick, random turns in succession.

    The worst thing to do is to stop behind a vehicle like that. You’re essentially a sitting duck in that situation. I’m not faulting the cyclist for doing this. With adrenaline pumping in this situation, it’s not always easy to think clearly. The sad fact is a minority of drivers do stuff like this on purpose. I refuse to play along in this game. My attitude when I see this is catch me if you can. In an urban setting, a car usually can’t catch any bike determined to get away. There’s just too many places a car can’t go that a bike can. There’s also a great chance a fuming mad motorist giving chase will end up in a wreck. This is a desirable outcome as far as I’m concerned in that it could potentially get them off the road for good.

    Calling the police isn’t an option for me personally. I don’t even own a cell phone, much less carry one while riding.

  • Jared Rodriguez

    The Hasidic Community regularly engages in ethnic/racial cleansing in their neighborhoods and in neighborhoods they seek. I feel for the students in East Ramapo; their public school district is being systematically shut down by the Hasidic Community. Hasidic landlords and real estate groups regularly violate the Fair Housing Law by discriminating against blacks, Hispanics and non-orthodox whites. It is a tremendous problem and it extends well beyond this individual example (in the video above). I urge everyone on this thread to read ‘Them and Them’ in NY Mag. http://nymag.com/news/features/east-ramapo-hasidim-2013-4/

  • Ian Turner

    Ethnic cleansing? Don’t you think that’s a bit hyperbolic?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_cleansing
    “Ethnic cleansing is the process or policy of eliminating unwanted ethnic or religious groups by deportation, forcible displacement, mass murder, or by threats of such acts”

  • Jared Rodriguez

    Forcible displacement. Read the article; the author does a great job at explaining the Curley Effect. He equates what is happening in Rockland and Orange counties to Mugabe’s Regime. If you visit there and see what is going on, you will realize how extreme this actually is. Extreme and scary. One group of Hasidim attempted to arson a detractor’s house; they attempted to douse him in gasoline on his front porch, but luckily he suffered only minor injuries.

    It sounds like I’m being hyperbolic and exaggerating, but I have lived adjacent to this community and it is every bit as extreme and more.

  • Jared Rodriguez

    By downplaying what the Hasidim are doing to adjacent communities is to approve. Someone needs to come to the aid of these students. It is heart wrenching.

  • Jared Rodriguez

    @7c177865bd107a919938355fe93de93a:disqus I wanted to add one more thing. If you enter the Rockland County Village of New Square (it has a gated entry on a publicly funded road), and you are not welcome, the Hasidim Community will stone you. They have done this to several reporters, black children that wander into the neighborhood, etc.

  • Jared Rodriguez

    While I haven’t seen Mr. Huerta, if he is visibly Latino, this is not about cyclist v. automobile, it is about much more than that.

  • Anonymous

    The only reason I own a cell phone is because of the riding I do.

  • Jared Rodriguez
  • Jared Rodriguez

    It has nothing to do with Mr. Huerta being a cyclist.

  • I have had several similar encounters but none with jews. It’s entirely about the fact that he was a cyclist and that some people believe that they don’t have to share the road with bicyclists.

  • Jared R

    This often happens in that neighborhood. It happens to people on foot as well. They are circled, shamed and driven out of the neighborhood. It is scary.

  • Craig Harlow

    I was unable to find info on whether the video footage of vehicular menacing resulted in any police action. Is anyone aware?

  • Bigfoot

    3 Counts of reckless endangerment by the motorist!

    $2500 fine and max. 5 yr jail term for each!

    Police need to do their job or file complaint!

  • Joe R.

    So far I haven’t read about any charges being filed. I’m sure if/when they are, Streetsblog will inform us. I wouldn’t hold my breath though. Three things are more likely to occur:

    1) The police decide not to file charges because ostensibly there’s not enough evidence to hold up in court.

    2) The police are paid off by this man or his brethren to not file charges, even if they feel charges are warranted.

    3) The cyclist is paid off by this man or his brethren not to press charges, and pretend it never happened.

    Of all three scenarios, I’d say #1 is by far the most likely.

  • Andy

    It needs a DA to press charges right? I can only expect that a story of “he passed me closely” will just get a chuckle and a boot out the door for wasting the DA’s time. Given how many people are killed by drivers in NY that aren’t ever charged, I have 0% confidence that there would be any followup for passing too closely. I doubt the police would even take the time to watch a video like this if no one had died in it.

  • They will say that there is not enough evidence but reality is that there’s plenty of evidence on the video. NYPD has historically shown a complete disregard for the safety and rights of bicyclists so they won’t lift a finger to help one this time either.

  • davidcohen

    Buying land and developing it to meet the needs of a community is not “ethnic cleansing”. It is taking initiative in a free market. I suggest you provide proof that the Hasidic community are physically removing people from their habitats. That sounds something the progeny of the Mayan civilization or current Mexican druglords would do.

    Interestingly enough the Hasidic neighborhoods have some of the lowest rates of crime in NYC. Are people scared of Boro Park or the South Bronx and Newark? Blacks and Latinos commit a DISPROPORTIONATE amount of the crime in NYC. Please don’t use poverty as an excuse….. because many of the Hasidim are dirt poor. The average Hasidic child is studying and being told bedtime stories, while the average Latino child’s parents are beating each other while the kid’s dealing drugs.

    It is not their fault that they are more industrious, more intelligent, more responsible and more moral than you.

  • Anonymous

    The average Hasidic child is studying and being told bedtime stories, while the average Latino child’s parents are beating each other while
    the kid’s dealing drugs. It is not their fault that they are more industrious, more intelligent, more responsible and more moral than you.

    This is a repulsive comment that offers only unneeded insight into the persistence of racist fantasies. It should fill its author with shame.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Cohen, personally I am educated with a masters degree, upper middle class, white collar and ethnically white (I am 25% Latino and the rest is Ukrainian). A wing of my extended family are secular Jews. Please do not try to put me in a box because of my last name; you have no idea who I am.

    I find your comments appalling as I find what the School Board in East Ramapo is doing appalling. Using economic methods, intimidation and housing discrimination to eliminate sections of population from a neighborhood is ethnic cleansing. The federal government will ultimately get wise to what is happening and they will remedy the situation in Brooklyn, Rockland County and Orange County. More people will learn about this as the media continues to expose what is happening. I believe your comments have brought to light the problems surrounding this issue.

    I am hoping to keep sharing the NY Magazine article to expose these problems: ‘Them and Them’ http://nymag.com/news/features/east-ramapo-hasidim-2013-4/

  • Jared R

    Before interacting with Mr. Cohen, please read the article ‘Them and Them’ to get an idea of what fuels his hatred of others: http://nymag.com/news/features/east-ramapo-hasidim-2013-4/ It is an eye opening story and very sad.

  • Joe R.

    Did you bother to read the article? This isn’t a case of taking initiative in a free market. It’s a case of systematically misusing the system to drive out people who are different from you. For example, the school board, largely composed of Hasidim, has starved the local public schools of funds. One questions why people who don’t even send their children to public schools would want or need to be on the school board in the first place. Unfortunately, for now anyway, our laws allow this, but nevertheless this is not how things should work. Those on school boards should have a vested interest in improving the public schools, not the opposite.

    Bottom line-some things may well be legal but they’re not necessarily ethical. That includes getting people in positions of power to make laws favoring your religious/ethnic groups. According to the US Constitution, there shall be no law favoring religion. Despite this, NYC removed a bike lane going through Williamsburg because of complaints that “scantily-clad” female cyclists were offensive to the Hasidim who lived in the area. I can sympathize, but we’re talking about a public thoroughfare. The state can’t interfere with the right of people to use public streets just because it offends some group’s religious sensibilities, and yet that’s exactly what happened here.

  • Anonymous

    To refer to housing discrimination in a small neighborhood by using a term that is commonly associated with genocidal actions on a national or at least regional level is hyperbolic to say the least. Is it nice? Sure not. But ethnic cleansing? Give me a break.

  • davidcohen

    What is “driving out”. If a group of people sells their houses voluntarily to another group they are not driving out anyone.

    I agree that the Hasidic man was wrong and too aggressive. He should know that people relish the idea of sensationalizing isolated cases of misbehavior in this community. Therefore his temper were not aligned with Jewish values. I agree that wrongdoing needs to be investigated – however the ferocious attack from comments (cockroaches, Hitler should have finished the job, etc…) shows a deeper hatred here.

    Can you imagine if people complained that black/latino people are taking over an area? The protests and condemnations would be astronomical.This has happened in numerous areas throughout the country. The black/latino style of “ethnic cleansing” is just different.

  • toomuchhate

    Look up the Curley Effect. It is ethnic cleansing . It fits the definition. Murder is not the only way to homogenize an area. It’s just a matter of time before HUD and the feds start to understand what’s going on.

  • Anonymous

    however the ferocious attack from comments (cockroaches, Hitler should have finished the job, etc…) shows a deeper hatred here.

    Your dark fantasy life is showing itself again: there are no such comments here.

  • Isaac B

    While the van driver appeared to be a Hasidic Jew and the cyclist seems to be Latino, any seasoned bike/ped advocate has seen this story played out across any and all racial/ethnic/religious lines. It’s about a motorist bullying a cyclist over imagined breaches of the law and being “inconvenienced”. Bringing up the racial angle and/or what Hasidim may or may not do in unrelated stories (such as the Rockland County school politics) does the bike/ped cause no good. It degenerates into name calling and gives anti-bike/ped advocates justification to tar us as our own variety of bigots.

  • Joe R.

    I think you know exactly what I mean by “driving out”. If you systematically make an area less desirable to live in by doing things like cutting funding for the public schools then people will leave. Yes, on the surface it’s voluntary but the situation is more like me causing a neighbor to move by playing bongo drums loudly late at night. You skirted my question of why these people who all send their children to private schools would even want or need to be on the local public school boards, other than to gut the public schools so people move.

    I’m not seeing any of the type of comments you mentioned here. I’m also not biased against the Hasidic community, or Jews in general. Not long ago, a young Hasidic couple and their unborn child were killed by a reckless driver. I spoke loud and clear against the driver who committed this horrible crime. And I’ll speak loudly against any group who systematically interferes with people just passing through their neighborhood, or who tries to illegally detain anyone.

  • philB

    It has more to do with violating public rights of way, fair housing, using public funds to segregate areas, etc. You can’t discuss what happened in the video without discussing both the cycle v. auto issue and the segregation issues. Transportation and housing are central to socioeconomic issues.

  • Ian Turner

    Not here, but the comments on some of the news stories reporting this incident are pretty disgusting.

  • Anonymous

    ***REPORTED CRIME*** How crimes are dealt with in the community and never reported to the police? It’s no secret abuse of children is these communities is massively under-reported.

    The Hasidim are religious fundamentalists that frequently operate like a gang, fuck them. They give Jews a bad name where ever they are; Israel or NY.

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